I recently joined an online forum/support group for people who are grieving. I am blown away by the support offered by strangers from around the world. I suppose, grief and bereavement create this sort of sub-culture or club, that no one really wants to be a part of. Yet, here we are.
As I read posts from people who are struggling with their changed lives, I am brought back to how grief has touched my life, and how hard it was in the intensity of loss, to believe in my experience. Believe in my experience…believe that whatever I was feeling was OK – after 3 weeks, 3 months, 3 years or 30.
I suppose it’s hindsight that has given me the strength to believe in my experience. Looking back, and even reading back (I kept meticulous journals during those early years), I see that my experience had an underlying core of “Sandy truths,” and much of my suffering was brought on by beliefs that were put in my head about how I was “doing it wrong,” or “should be____” or “could be ____.” All of this created dissonance within myself about what I was experiencing.
Shouldn’t my own experience be my own truth? No one knows my life, or my loss the way I do – it is full of intimate details that only I will ever know or appreciate.
Our own lives are the instrument with which
we experiment with truth. – Thich Nhat Hanh
This post reminds me of the one I wrote previously on Authenticity. I suppose, part of authenticity comes from experimenting with what we believe is our truths: What fits with our experience? what brings us a sense of peace? what creates more suffering? We will find things that resonate positively and negatively, and from this searching we develop our tried, tested, and true truths.
Our lives, and our losses change us. Despite this huge change in life as we know it, is it possible to trust in our experience – even if our experience is misery? And trust that we can be suffering and that is Ok – in fact, that is something we can believe in? Can we find guidance in our suffering?
I believe the answer is yes -because I believe there is wisdom in suffering, and even more wisdom in our own life experiences. In this way, we accept all parts of ourselves – without judgement.
I’ve been thinking a lot about authenticity; the influence of grief on our ability to be authentic, as well as the ability to mourn authentically.
[As aside....Grief is our internal response to loss - all the thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and physiological responses we experience. Mourning is our ability to bring our grief outside ourselves, and share the impact of our loss with the world. Grief-gone-public, so-to-speak. To heal, one must mourn. Without mourning, grief stays locked within us, and as I like to say, "what we resist, persists." Mourning creates movement within us - and movement creates the transformation of our suffering. Mourning includes things like talking about your loss and your loved one, embracing your pain, remembering your loved one, searching for meaning etc. A great article on the needs of mourning can be found here: Mourner's 6 Reconciliation Needs]
My concern with authenticity in grief, comes from the fact and observation that we (as a society) don’t DO grief well. In my opinion, we have a real aversion to difficult emotions. Grief isn’t something that is openly talked about or even considered normal past an arbitrary end point. People are given 3 days off work – just enough time to have a funeral, and life is expected to get back to normal within that time, or shortly thereafter. Movies and TV shows about loss and grief portray grief as being completely resolved in an unrealistic amount of time (30-90 minutes depending on the show), never to be thought of again. In fact, we, in North America, have theworldwide shortest mourning times. These socio-cultural influences have charred our presepectives of what is actually normal in grief. As a society, we should be ashamed that we don’t offer more support to grief and heartbreak – and treat it as a testament to love and life – instead we see it as a “problem” that needs to be solved ASAP.
These timelines, endpoints and expectations can be detrimental to someone’s experience of authenticity in grief and mourning. The moment the perception becomes, “I should be feeling different than I am now,” it is a slippery slope to being secondary victimized – where we blame and shame the already-torn-apart-griever because they are “doing it wrong.” This infuriates me.
In order to grieve and mourn authentically, we are required to break the social norms of our culture. It is unfortunate that the struggle of living outside the norms of our society is added to our already-overwhelmed grieving selves. Alas, I think it’s vital.
I mean, really, our ability to grieve is directly linked to our ability to love. If we didn’t love, we would’t grieve. That alone speaks to deep connection and bond between two souls that shouldn’t be severed and disregarded due to death. Death may end a life, but it doesn’t end a relationship – albeit a changed relationship, but still one that can be honoured, and remembered, and talked about…with NO timelines and endpoints. Isn’t that what love is?
Coco Chanel said, “Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity.” That quote resonates with me. When something so significant in your life happens to rock you to the core, it sparks a need to shout, “this is what happened to me!” To tell your story to listening ears and compassionate hearts, and be heard for how your precious life has changed in a way that makes you want to stand up and say “this is my truth, this is me” both as a statement of fact, and as a method of searching for a new transformed way of being in the world.
I don’t want to generalize and say that this is the truth for everyone who is grieving, nor is it true for everyone in our society. As a public service announcement, I think it is important to create awareness around the NEED for authenticity – then the work becomes finding people/places/things that allow you to be completely authentic in your experience.
Journaling has always been an excerise in authenticity for me. I have practiced allowing myself to journal in a completely uncensored way – how freeing!
Yoga and meditation are also places where I can be and feel authentic. Both practices allow me to fully experience my life, and not be brought out of my expereience, or have it be changed by an outside influence. In hindsight, when I was in the throngs of grief, yoga, meditation and journaling were some of the only places that I felt like whatever I was feeling or thinking was OK. And, when I didn’t feel like my thoughts and feelings were ok, these activities gave me a place to explore WHY my perception of my own personal experience was broken…and more often than not I realized that I felt like my experience was somehow wrong or abnormal.
Authentic living this isn’t an easy path to walk – it’s not always realistic or emotionally safe to be authentic. That is why we also have to practice discernment and self awareness along with our need to live truthfully.
Ironically, I’ve found it’s more painful to run, repress and hide from my truth, than it has been to stand in it. At least with the latter option I felt legitimate and valid and faithful to honouring my life and my story. In the same way, I also honour the lives of the loved ones in my life who have died and who’s lives have changed my own.
I would love to open this up for discussion – what/where/how do you feel authentic?
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